I tried to resist writing this—especially after my plea against categorizing authors. Plus, so many of us hide our age in this world of never-get-old, unearthing this information, even in our Googlized world, was difficult.
But, recently, along with the plethora of lists of writers under 40, I was faced with the declaration that, as headlined in a Guardian UK article about writers, ‘Let’s Face It, After 40 You’re Past It.”
Then I read Sam Tanenhaus opine in the New York Times that there was “an essential truth about fiction writers: They often compose their best and most lasting work when they are young. “There’s something very misleading about the literary culture that looks at writers in their 30s and calls them ‘budding’ or ‘promising,’ when in fact they’re peaking.”
Thus, in the interest not of division, but of keeping up the flagging spirits of those who don’t want to be pushed out on the ice floe until after publishing all those words jangling in their head, I present 40 0ver 40:
Paul Harding, author of Tinkers, won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize with his debut novel, published when he was 42. Robin Black, author of If I Loved You I Would Tell you this, was 48 when she debuted this year. Holly LeCraw published her debut novel The Swimming Pool at 43. Julia Glass was in her early 40s when she published Three Junes. Charles Bukowski’s first novel, Post Office, was published at 49. James Michner’s first book, Tales of the South Pacific was published when he was forty—he went on to publish over 40 titles. Sherwood Anderson, author of Winesburg, Ohio published his first novel at the age of 40. Amy Mackinnondebuted Tethered in her 4o’s.
Henry Miller’s first published book, Tropic of Capricorn, was released when he was over forty. Tillie Olsen published Tell Me A Riddle just shy of 50. Edward P Jones was 41 when his first book Lost In The City came out. Claire Cook published her first novel at age 45. Chris Abouzied published his first novel Anatopsis at 46. Kyle Ladd was 41 when her debut, After The Fall, was published.
Lynne Griffin published her first novel, Life Without Summer at 49. Elizabeth Strout’s first novel Amy & Isabel debuted when she was 42. MJ Rose first novel came out when she was in her mid forties. Melanie Benjamin was 42 when she debuted. Therese Fowler was forty exactly when Souvenir debuted.
Margaret Walker wrote Jubilee, her only novel at 51. Raymond Chandler debuted at 51 with The Big Sleep. Belva Plain published her first novel, Evergreen, at 50.Alex Haley published his debut novel Roots when he was 55. (His first book, the nonfiction The Autobiography of Malcolm X was published when he was in his mid-forties.) Jon Clinch debuted with Finn at age 52. In 2010 his wife Wendy Clinch published Double Black.
Also in 2010 Iris Gomez published Try To Remember in her fifties, as did Joseph Wallace with Diamond Ruby, and I published The Murderer’s Daughters at 57.Sue Monk Kidd was 54 when she debuted The Secret Life of Bees. Annie Proulx’s first novel, Postcards, was published when she was 57. Jeanne Ray published debut, Julie and Romeo in her fifties.
George Elliot’s first novel, Adam Bede, debuted when Elliot turned 50. Isak Dineson’s first, Seven Gothic Tales came out when she turned 50. Hallie Ephronauthor of Never Tell A Lie began publishing fiction after fifty. Jackie Mitchardwas past 50 when The Deep End of the Ocean debuted. Richard Adams debuted with Watership Down at 52.
Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first novel (beginning the Little House series) at 65. Harriet Doerr won the National Book Award, for Stones for Ibarra, written when she was 74. Katherine Anne Porter published her only novel, Ship of Fools,at age 72. EJ Knapp just debuted Stealing The Marbles, saying “I'm so far past forty I can't remember it anymore." Norman McLean wrote A River Runs Through It at age 74.
When compiling this list, Ellen Meeropol asked: "Do I count? My first novel,House Arrest, will come out in February, two months before my 65th birthday."Karen LaFreya Simpson will be 55 when her first novel Act of Grace debuts next year and Nichole Bernier will be over 44 when The Unfinished Live of Elizabeth Dis published in 2012. Yes, that’s my answer, Ellen. We all count.
This is only a list of first novels. Compiling lists of bestselling, Pulitzer Prize winning, Orange Prize winning, etc. books written after the age of 40—that will take several essays.
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